Paranoid Winter: Thaw
Paranoid Foundation

There was a time when the dark magick practiced by outfits such as Coil, Throbbing Gristle, and Formication was in relatively plentiful supply, but such times appear to be long gone. All three of those projects are over, though there is a note at the Facebook page of Years After Your Death, the solo project of Formication co-founder Kingsley Ravenscroft, that reads “Formication will reconvene at a time of our choosing.” No matter: Cris Lee is just the man to fill that industrial-electronic void; certainly any listener desperate for the kind of material associated with the aforementioned acts would be well-advised to track down Thaw, the debut album by Lee's Paranoid Winter outfit, especially when its thirty-seven minutes exudes the unsettling character of a dread-fueled fever dream.

Though Thaw is the thirteenth commercially released album Lee has either produced or co-produced, it's surprisingly enough Paranoid Winter's debut album. It arrives a year after the group's self-titled, six-track EP was made available in late 2014 as a free podcast at the Paranoid Foundation site, and, like the EP, augments Lee's creative contributions with Claire Norman's vocals and clarinet playing. One of the things that makes the recording effective is its mix of long and short pieces: five are included, two of them long and three song-like in duration if not in form.

In the macabre scene-setter “Presentations,” Lee's voice intones softly in a manner not unlike Brian Eno's, and the controlled psychosis generated by the combination of voice, bass playing, and shrieking noise design suggests some degree of kinship between Paranoid Winter and David Toop and early Scanner. Throughout the fourteen-minute drone meditation “Narratives,” Lee's and Norman's voices cryptically murmur, their expressions, typically alternating though sometimes uniting, oozing a kind of dazed disconnectedness that's amplified by a quietly howling backdrop of treated instrument sounds and textures. The curdling slow-burn of “Narratives” is revisited in the even more hallucinatory “Binary,” with this time synthesizer elements and storm noises prominent and the voices presented as an indecipherable, Scanner-like babble. Elsewhere, “Hope” features Norman alone in a brief yet nevertheless hypnotic microtonal exercise created by overlapping layers of single-note clarinet figures, and as the final track, a sickly undertow of clarinet, electric guitar, and synthesizers, makes crystal clear, Lee and Norman appear perfectly content to close the recording in the same unsettling spirit with which it began. In fact, one could easily look upon “Words (Fail Us)” as Thaw in microcosm, given the wooziness of its diseased character.

February 2016